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Horrell-Higgins Feud

John Pinckey Higgins (first row, far right)

The Horrell and Higgins families were ranchers who settled in Lampasas County before the Civil War and were friends and neighbors until the 1870s. The five Horrell brothers-Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam-first got into trouble with the State Police in 1873, when Capt. Thomas Williams and seven men went to Lampasas to put a stop to the general lawlessness prevalent there. Williams fought with the Horrell boys and their brother-in-law, Bill Bowen, in Jerry Scott's saloon. When the fight was over, four state policemen were dead. Mart Horrell, badly wounded, was confined in the Georgetown jail, but as soon as he was well enough his brothers helped him to break out.

The Horrells remained in the Lampasas area for several more months, gathered a herd of cattle, and then headed for New Mexico. They settled in the Ruidoso country west of Roswell and immediately got into more trouble. Conflicting tales are told about the beginning of the affair known in New Mexico as the Horrell War, but all agree that it was brief and bloody. At least seventeen men were killed, including Ben Horrell and a brother-in-law named Ben Turner.

Eventually, followed for a long distance by the angry New Mexicans, the Horrells returned to Texas. They reached Lampasas near the end of February 1874, surrendered to the authorities, and were tried for the murder of Thomas Williams and acquitted. The brothers resettled in various parts of Lampasas County. Sam lived about seventeen miles north of Lampasas near Simms Creek, Tom had some property about seven miles north of Lampasas, and Mart lived southeast of Lampasas near the Burnet County line.

John Calhoun Pinckney Higgins ("Pink") was born in Georgia, but his family moved by wagon train to Texas a few months later, settling first near Austin before establishing a ranch in Lampasas County in 1857. As a young man Pink was an officer in the Ku Klux Klan, owned a combination meat shop and saloon until it burned, and was twice wounded while fighting Indians. Pink's best shooting was done with a Winchester, which he fired by pulling the trigger with his thumb when pulling back the lever.

Later he turned to ranching as a livelihood, and by the 1870's he was driving large herds to the Kansas railheads. At times he combined his cattle with those of the Horrell brothers, who ranched nearby. But in 1873 the Horrells killed three law officers, including Pink's sonin-law, and a vicious feud erupted. Pink was involved in several shooting scrapes, but finally he was prevailed upon by Texas Rangers to sign a truce. About the turn of the century he moved his ranching operation and large family to a spread thirteen miles south of Spur, Texas, where he died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-six.

Accused of a murder in Texas in 1873, Clint Barkley adopted the alias Bill Bowen and fled to Lampasas to seek the help of Merritt Horrell, his brother-in-law. The five lethal Horrell brothers, all local cattlemen, gave Barkley shelter and a job, and when state policemen attempted to arrest him, the Horrells helped in gunning down the lawmen. Barkley next assisted the Horrells in staging a jail break, then accompanied them to New Mexico and further violence. He returned with them to Texas and fought actively in the Horrell-Higgins feud before dropping out of sight.

Benjamin Horrell worked for his older brothers on their cattle spreads in Lampasas County, Texas. He was present during the early stages of the notorious Horrell-Higgins feud, then left with his brothers to establish a ranch on the Ruidoso River in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Within a short time he was killed in a gunfight with a local peace officer, and his brothers responded with vicious acts of retribution which sparked another feud. It is worthy of note that another brother, John, had drifted to New Mexico in earlier years and had been killed in Las Cruces.

Martin Horrell served with his brothers Sam and Tom in Terry's Texas Ranger brigade during the Civil War. After the war he helped his brothers build a ranching enterprise in Lampasas County, Texas, where he soon became a willing participant in the Horrell-Higgins feud. He then moved with his family and violenceprone siblings to Lincoln County, New Mexico. While there, the Horrells briefly terrorized the countryside, then were run out of New Mexico by vigilantes.

After returning to Texas with his brothers, Mart fought until the feud with Pink Higgins subsided in 1877, only to meet death at the hands of a lynch mob the following year. Mart, Tom, Bill Crabtree, John Dixon, and Tom Bowen were suspected of robbing and murdering a Bosque County merchant, and the two Horrells were jailed in Meridian. A group of irate citizens broke into the jail and shot both men to death.

A member of the violent Horrell clan of Texans, Merritt Horrell was present in Lampasas when the Horrell-Higgins feud broke out in 1873. He moved with his brothers to Lincoln County, New Mexico, and there joined with them in further shooting scrapes. The surviving brothers (Ben and John had been killed at different times in New Mexico) returned to Lampasas, and the feud quickly resumed. In 1877 Merritt was shot to death by Pink Higgins, leader of the opposing faction, in a Lampasas saloon.

Named after his father, Samuel W. Horrell was one of the quarrelsome group of brothers who fought together through the Civil War and through a variety of later conflicts. Following the war, John Horrell became the first of his clan to meet death in a shooting scrape, being gunned down in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In 1873 the remaining five brothers became embroiled in the Horrell-Higgins feud in Lampasas, Texas. Sam helped kill three state policemen in the initial battle, then temporarily left the country with his brothers and their families.

The Horrells tried to establish another cattle spread in Lincoln County, New Mexico, but almost immediately they became immersed in further violence. Ben Horrell was killed, and after his brothers took revenge they were chased back to Texas. They returned to a ranch ten miles southeast of Lampasas, and the feud resumed, climaxing after several gunfights in 1877. Sam was the only brother to survive the violence, and in 1880 he left Lampasas to make his life in New Mexico, peaceably rearing his two daughters and living a quiet existence.

After the Civil War, Thomas W. Horrell, a veteran of the Confederate army, established a ranch near Lampasas, Texas. Within a few years Horrell, aided by his four brothers, had built the ranch to the point that it was eclipsed in the area only by the nearby spread of Pink Higgins. In a joint drive to Abilene in 1872, Higgins and Tom Horrell had a saloon quarrel which almost led to gunplay and which did initiate a violent range feud. The conflict between the Higgins and Horrell factions erupted in March, 1873, and over the next few years there followed a series of gunfights and bushwhackings.

Late in 1873 the Horrell brothers - Tom, Mart, Sam, Ben, and Merritt - moved their livestock operation to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where they soon became embroiled in further hostilities. Ben was killed in Lincoln, and his brothers immediately sought revenge. Conditions soon grew so bad that the entire county became an armed camp, and a vigilante group was organized to overwhelm the Horrells. Early in 1874, therefore, the Horrells returned to Texas, where their feud with Pink Higgins soon was renewed.

The worst fighting was in 1877, but by August of that year John B. Jones, major of the Texas Rangers, had persuaded the two parties to sign a peace agreement, and major hostilities ceased. Tom and Mart were killed by a lynch mob the next year, following a robbery and murder of which they were suspected.

A cowboy who worked for Pink Higgins during the 1870's, Jess Standard became involved in the bloody Horrell-Higgins feud in Lampasas County, Texas. He later moved his growing family from the Lampasas area and spent the rest of his life as a farmer and carpenter near Tuscola, Texas.

Ben Turner was a cowboy in the employ of the Horrell brothers when the infamous Horrell-Higgins feud broke out in Lampasas, Texas. He helped gun down three state policemen in Lampasas, and he assisted in a jailbreak in Georgetown. He then accompanied the Horrells to New Mexico, where further violence soon erupted. Ben Horrell, Turner's brother-in-law, was killed in Lincoln, and in the shooting that soon followed, Turner met his death.

William R. Wren owned a cattle spread in Lampasas County, Texas. Pink Higgins was a neighboring rancher who became embroiled in a bloody feud with the Horrell brothers, and when Wren lent his assistance, he became Higgins' chief lieutenant. Severely wounded in a street fight in 1877, Wren signed a truce at the urging of Texas Rangers Major John B. Jones and later used his gun only on the side of the law as a county sheriff.

At some time during the next two years they quarreled with their former neighbor John Pinckney Calhoun (Pink) Higgins, who accused them of stealing his stock. On January 22, 1877, Pink Higgins shot and killed Merritt Horrell in Wiley and Toland's Gem Saloon in Lampasas. Legend claims that this was the same saloon where the four State Police were killed in 1873.

The three remaining Horrells were determined to call to account Higgins, his brother-in-law Bob Mitchell, and his friend Bill Wren. On March 26, as Tom and Mart Horrell were on their way to attend a session of Judge W. A. Blackburn's court, they were waylaid four miles east of Lampasas by the Higgins party, which was concealed along the banks of a creek known today as Battle Branch. Tom was knocked out of his saddle, badly hurt. Mart, less seriously hit, stopped his frightened horse, dismounted under fire, and ran off the attackers singlehandedly.

Life ain't easy for a man named Pink, or so you would think. But if you're talking about Pink Higgins you might look at it another way. There is no record of anybody making fun of Pink Higgins.

John Pinckney Calhoun Higgins - known to friends, enemies, legend and lore as Pink Higgins - grew up in Lampasas County when that part of the country constituted the western frontier, when danger lurked every which way. He learned to rope and ride and be handy with a gun. All three skills, especially the gun part, would come in handy in his adult life. Pink began driving cattle herds north in the mid 1860s until the 1880s when railroads and fences put an end to that particular vocation.

He would later wander north to the Spur Ranch in the Texas Panhandle where he was hired to eliminate cattle rustling on the ranch, a task he carried out with extreme prejudice, as the saying goes.

Pink lived out the rest of his life in Kent County, where he established a farm and ranch that was remarkably free of cattle rustlers. After a time, the Panhandle was free of another Lampasas native, Bill Standifer.

Once, shown a list of the 14 men he is said to have killed, Higgins said, "I didn't kill all of them men - but then again, I got some that wasn't on the bill, so I guess it just about evens up."

Higgins first became known as a gunfighter during the notorious Horrell-Higgins Feud in Lampasas County in the 1870s. The Horrell and Higgins' families were both early settlers of Lampasas County and were close friends for a time, but that time passed, beginning in May of 1876 when Pink found one of his calves tied to a tree on the public square in Lampasas.

Pink hadn't tied the calf there so he set about finding who did. He was told that one Merritt Horrell had sold the calf to Jim Grizzel, a relative of the Horrells and owner of a meat market on the square. Higgins had a warrant sworn out for Merritt Howell but a jury would find him not guilty. Higgins lost faith in juries at that point and assured Horrell that a repeat of the incident would not require the services of a jury.

That turned out to be the case in January of 1877 when some of Higgins' cattle ended up in Horrell's possession. Higgins, along with Bob Mitchell and Sam Hess, took the matter to trial two days later when they walked into the Gem Saloon in downtown Lampasas. Higgins, with his trusty Winchester rifle in tow, filed his opening and closing arguments in the case by shooting Horrell four times. In Higgins mind, this closed out the punishment phase of the trial.

A couple of Horrell brothers and two other men formed a posse and arrested four known Higgins associates, but Pink himself was nowhere to be found.

In March of the 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were on their way to court for reasons that are unclear but were ambushed along the way at a place on the old Belton Road that would come to be known as Battle Creek.

Captain Sparks and a company of Texas Rangers just happened to be in town at the time. They formed a search party for the men responsible for the ambush, but little came of it.

Later, Pink Higgins surrendered to stand trial for the murder of Merritt Howell. This was seen as a bright spot in what had become a bloody and spreading feud. The Lampasas Dispatch noted "we are all civil now, nobody having been killed in a week or more." (Higgins would later be acquitted of the murder charge.)

In June of 1877 somebody - no idea who - broke into the Lampasas County Courthouse. Every scrap of paper pertaining to various charges against the feudists simply disappeared.

Not so with the Higgins and Horrells factions. Each had the misfortune to be in town at the same time on Sunday, June 11. The ensuing gun battle in downtown Lampasas left two people dead. The Horrell faction ended up in a nigh impenetrable rock building on the west side of the square. Cooler heads, along with the Texas Rangers, persuaded both factions to call it quits for a day.

A detachment of Rangers later surprised the Horrells while they were sleeping and arrested them. Even so, no one was looking forward to another court date, when Pink Higgins and his bunch would know exactly where the Horrells would be and at what time they would be there.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the saga was the way it ended. Both sides signed papers agreeing to end the bloodshed. More remarkably, both sides kept their respective ends of the deal.

Truth be told, the feud officially ended the next year when Tom and Mart Horrell, suspected of complicity in the murder of a storekeeper in Bosque County, were shot to death by vigilantes in the Meridian jail. Although never proven, it was speculated that John Higgins instigated the murders. John Higgins was viewed as a hero locally, and is often credited with bringing down the Horrell Brothers.

Higgins made his way to the Spur Ranch in the Texas Panhandle where, for a time, he partnered with Jefferson Davis Hardin, the younger brother of John Wesley Hardin, as a stock detective, or protection man as they were known. (The younger Hardin would later carry on a family tradition of getting shot to death.) He developed a considerable reputation as a gunman, and in September, 1877, Higgins killed cowboy Ike Lantier, whom he caught stealing cattle, after Lantier drew on him. That shooting was ruled self defense.

In the Panhandle, Higgins ran afoul of Bill Standifer, another range detective who was likewise pretty handy with a gun. Standifer, a Lampasas County native like Higgins, might have been connected to the Horrell clan through his stepmother.

On October 4, 1903, he killed gunman and former lawman Bill Standifer in a gunfight, after Standifer had threatened Higgins son Cullin, a local district attorney. The two men had a falling out that proved to be fatal when they rode up on each other, both armed, and Higgins shot Standifer to death. That killing closed out the most violent part of Pink Higgins life.

Sam Horrell, the only Horrell left, moved his family to Oregon in 1882. He died in California in 1936. Higgins died on December 18, 1914. At the time of his death, Higgins is believed to have killed fourteen men in gunfights. he died of a heart attack at either the age of 52 or 55, depending on which source you believe. Pink Higgins' two sons grew up to be respected lawyers.

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